A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

03 November 2010

Shining a Light, Part I

I have recently discovered a new raft of self-limiting beliefs I've been lugging around with me, and am now pulling them out of my karmic backpack to leave behind. This is an interesting experience. I wonder if you've ever had it? You wake up (figuratively or literally) one day and go, "wow! Why am I telling myself THAT? Not only is it not serving me, it's not even true!"

One of my favorites -- perhaps you've heard it -- is "people will hate me if they ever find out what I'm really like." If you're like almost everyone I've ever met, you developed a belief much like this somewhere around junior high, and some small part of it has persisted in you ever since. It feeds on labels. If "people" (at my office, in my bridge club, at my church) ever found out that I was (or wasn't) Christian, Jewish, Democrat, Republican, skeptic, morning person, dyslexic, divorced, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered/straight/kinky, or not a natural blonde, I would be run out of town on a rail and would never find another friend.

The really weird thing about this is that our subconscious (what I sometimes call the "lizard brain") somehow persuades us that this is a real risk, even with people we have known for years and who trust and respect us deeply. When we suspect our friends or colleagues of being capable of this sort of treachery, it is we ourselves who commit the more treacherous act. How unkind, to insinuate that another person could be so petty! How distrustful, to imagine that someone who knows you well would change their mind about you based on something as small and ultimately meaningless as a label.

If we want to build real relationships (and we know that real relationships are the first premise of all effective human interaction in both personal and professional arenas), we have to be authentic. That means letting go of the labels we place on ourselves as well as those we slap onto others. It also means trusting that people want and need to know who you really are, and that when you shine a light on yourself, and on them, that everyone will like what they see.

What aspects of you need a light shone on them today, in order to reveal more of who you are, banish the labels, and let you show up fully to the opportunities that lie before you? Whom do you need to trust more deeply? (Maybe even yourself!) Who could help you shine that light, and what would you have to believe in order to feel safe asking?

(And if you don't think this has EVERYTHING to do with success in your business, think again.)

01 July 2010

Life Lessons from the Movies, episode 3

I have a soft spot in my head for Disney movies, as most of you know. Today's source of inspiration is not, I admit, one of their better efforts, but does offer a valuable message for personal and professional development. The movie is Meet the Robinsons, and the lesson is that it's OK to get things wrong.

In the movie, the protagonist is very confused when the people around him enthusiastically praise him for failing. "You failed! That's GREAT!" I don't know about you, but I don't have that experience very often. Usually when I mess up, no cheering occurs. Interestingly enough, though, it's also pretty rare for other people to criticize or scold me for it. What about you? When you fail, or make a mistake, do you get a lot of grief from anyone else? There's only one person who punishes me relentlessly for the errors I make in my life. She looks back at me from every mirror.

Two simple lessons I wish I had learned by the time I was ten are only just now starting to sink in. Consider them my gift to you if you are younger than I am, and know they are easier to put into words than they are to install in your psyche.

Lesson one: Mistakes are essential! Getting it wrong is how we learn. Theodore Roosevelt said, "the man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything." When we let ourselves get bound up in the fear of failure, we avoid trying new things. We hide in our comfort zone and miss out on a world of opportunities. Go ahead and explore something unfamiliar, and don't be afraid of failure. Every experiment is a success as long as you get data.

Lesson two: Lighten up! If making a mistake is a learning opportunity worthy of celebration, don't waste energy feeling bad about it or beating yourself up. I find it difficult to let go and move beyond my mistakes, but when I am able to do it, it's the most liberating feeling I've ever had. When you mess up, take any needed corrective action quickly, learn the lesson, and let go of the negative feelings as soon as you can. Remember that spaced repetition can work for you as well as against you. Repeat the parts of the lesson you want to remember instead of letting negative messages pollute your head.

They say we teach what we most need to learn. Perhaps you have enjoyed some benefit from reading this, and if not, you are willing to indulge me as I teach something I'm working to learn for myself.

Made any fabulous mistakes lately? I'd love to hear about it.

16 June 2010

Making It All Work

I have borrowed the title of this blog post from the title of the book I just finished reading. In it, David Allen (you all know what a huge fan I am of David) explores how the principles he put forth in Getting Things Done are implemented in real life. He digs deeply into what he calls the "stages of control" and the "horizons of focus," and provides stories, tips and examples to help the reader implement GTD more effectively.

I had two wonderful "aha" moments in reading this book. The first was when he shed some light on the multiple meanings of the title. We have a tendency to think and talk in terms of "work" being stuff you get paid to do, and stuff you don't like doing (mowing the lawn is "work," lounging in the pool is not). David suggests that a purer definition of "work" is really any action you take toward some desired outcome, and when you think of everything you do in the course of a day as "work," two good things happen. One, you let go of the idea of work as punishment and embrace the idea of work as productivity; and two, you become more mindful of the need to choose your actions in every moment based on your priorities, your commitments, and your energy level. If you are fortunate enough to set your own hours, this may translate into golfing on Tuesday morning with an important client (or a favorite nephew), and working on a proposal on a Saturday afternoon because that is when you are in the best state of mind to do it. So "Making It All Work" suggests assigning the label of "work" to everything you do, regardless of the project or context it serves, and perhaps by extension, learning to take your job less seriously and your health and family more seriously.

My second "aha" was a new level of understanding of an idea I had read many times before in David's work, but had not quite fully absorbed. This is the idea that planning has to happen on the level where you are focused now before it can happen on a higher level. David calls this "paying attention to what has your attention," and it basically means that if your desk is so covered with stuff that you can't think straight (physical clutter), or you are consumed with dread over the decision to terminate a problem employee (mental clutter), you will not be able to devote useful attention to "30,000 foot view" thinking no matter how important it is. The reason this "aha" is important for me is that I have long touted the importance of strategic planning as a critical first step toward success in business, leadership, and even energy management (what some folks call "time management"). I still stand by the assertion that it is a critical step, but I've now realized it's not always the first step. This new appreciation for what it really means to meet the client where they are will make me more effective in diagnosing your organization's needs and responding appropriately to them.

If you're ready to clear the clutter and get things done, give me a call.

27 May 2010

It's all a Game

I recently spent a little more time than I really care to admit playing a video game called "Pac-Match Party." I think much of the appeal came from the fact that I got quite good at it very quickly, and as I thought about it, I realized that it offers a lot of interesting parallels with work and life. If (and only if) you have a little discretionary time available, follow the link and try the game for a bit. Then see what you think of these analogies.

The task you perform in this game is to rearrange picture tiles to create rows of at least three the same. In order to do this, you need to look at the board strategically to see the big picture of what tiles are where, what constraints there may be on your ability to rearrange them, and where you may be able to score extra points by choosing a move that lines up four or five tiles instead of just three. You also need to look at the board tactically, because there are other things going on in the game that require you to work as quickly as you can. And each time you succeed in lining up three tiles, those tiles disappear and the entire board shifts as the tiles above them drop and new tiles appear. Meanwhile, there are constant distractions of sound and motion that you must decide to respond to or ignore. Abundant opportunities and distractions, constantly changing, requiring you to look for possibilities that may not be obvious. Does this sound like anything you've ever encountered in your life?

In addition, your "life" in the game is represented by a little Pac-Man eating his way around a single track that frames the board. He is being chased by a red ghost. The actions you take on the board affect the speed your Pac-Man travels. If you make enough good moves quickly enough, your Pac-Man will actually catch up with the ghost, it will turn blue (remember how it happened in the original Pac-Man game?) and you can eat it, for lots of extra points. So your situation may be reactive, where you are working frantically to out-run your opponent, or proactive, where you are working to run your opponent down. The closer the opponent gets to catching you, the more pressure you feel to work quickly and the more likely you are to make a mistake. But if you get far enough ahead to "lap" your opponent, you gain the upper hand and become the threat, rather than the threatened. This in turn may increase your confidence and your effectiveness. Does this sound like anything you've ever encountered in your business?

Other interesting parallels:
  • The thing that ultimately determines your success or failure in the game is on the periphery of the action -- very small and at risk of going unnoticed. What's on the periphery of your vision right now that could determine your success or failure?
  • The game requires constant, smart action, but does not require lightning-fast reflexes or frantic activity. Are you effective and efficient in your work, or just busy?
  • As you progress through various levels, there are more and more "roadblocks" to your actions. How to you respond to the increased challenge as you become more and more successful?
  • It is relatively easy to complete levels quickly, but you will score more points by staying on your current level for as long as possible. In other words, your strategy will be different depending on your goals. Are you clear about your current goals, and is your activity aligned with them?
The best parallel of all in this game is that if you do nothing for a few seconds, the game will point out a move to you. It doesn't do it for you, show you the whole solution, or help you too soon, but if you need a little boost, the game offers you just enough help to keep you moving forward on your chosen path. Sounds to me a lot like what a coach does!

Need some help to clarify your strategy or find your next move? Give me a call.

26 April 2010

The Butterfly Effect

Being in the business of change, I continually run across (and often use) various buzz phrases and adages that are true enough, often enough to warrant repeating. One popular one among business coaches goes, "If nothing changes, nothing changes."

It's a simple enough idea, closely related to the perennial favorite definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting the same outcomes we've always gotten. That's great, if for example you've always gone to the same dentist and never had a cavity, but not so good if you've always advertised in the same outlets and never gotten the customers you were looking for.

I recently returned from, of all things, a yoga retreat at a beautiful wellness center in the Berkshires. While I was there, I realized a hugely important corollary to the "if nothing changes, nothing changes" adage. You see, I have sometimes found myself paralyzed by the magnitude of what needs changing. I decide, for example, that I'm sick of my front yard looking terrible, with scraggly weeds and patches of bare dirt. But then I contemplate what would be entailed in fixing it -- tearing out the hopeless lawn, adding new plants, setting up a water-wise irrigation system -- and I get so overwhelmed that I end up doing nothing. A few weeks or months later, I get fed up with the status quo again, and go through the same cycle. Each time it gets more frustrating, but nothing changes, so nothing changes.

Here's the thing I discovered on my yoga retreat. I came to a real, down to the depths of my gut understanding of the notion of "enough." And I realized that if I planted one tree, or mulched one small bed, or installed one rain barrel, it would make a difference. And if I took one step each time I felt ready to do so, I would accomplish the whole project. (How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!) Most importantly, I realized that doing one little thing would impact my attitude. And sure enough, when I planted a few flowers in pots, and grouped the pots together in the garden close to my front door, it shifted my attitude about it so much that in short order I had mulched a large area in front of the house, put in a rain barrel, and ordered a couple of new trees. The project is far from done, but more importantly, it's far from UNdone. Now, instead of despairing every time I pull into my driveway, I am delighted by the bright little cluster of flower pots that tells me "hey, you've done enough for now. The rest will wait."

If nothing changes, nothing changes. But if anything changes, everything changes.

What's the "one small step" you could take on a huge project that will be enough to provoke a giant leap in your attitude?

Writer's Block

I've been having some computer troubles since I returned from a trip out of state, and the combination of those two factors has made it virtually impossible to keep up with my online activities. This has been doubly frustrating because my recent travels and other experiences have given me so many ideas to write about!

Fortunately, I think the logistical storms have passed, and I look forward to rediscovering all the little notes I've written to myself to remind me about all those ideas. We'll see what thoughts have survived the temporary upheaval. It all certainly serves to reinforce one of David Allen's key points about productivity -- if your tools lack the features and functions you need, or if they are not working perfectly, they act like an anvil around the neck of your creativity.

I also discovered how a little, relatively invisible problem with a computer can turn into a big one if you don't pay attention to the small cues that something is not right. (After 30 years of working with the silly things you'd think I'd have caught on to that one!)

Today's free advice, worth every penny you paid for it, is: don't put up with flaws in any tool you need to be productive. If you don't love it, or it doesn't work perfectly, it's time to get it fixed or replaced. The cost in money to have the right tools is a pittance compared to the cost in time, trouble, frustration and sapped creativity to tolerate stuff that doesn't work for you.

01 April 2010

Contradictions

Not that I recommend this strategy, but being sick for a few days offers an opportunity to catch up on one's reading, and I have been. I'm not a particularly fast or voracious reader, yet I've finished two books in the last two days and am well on the way to finishing a third. All this to say, I have some reflections to share about my recent reading.

I saw some parallels between these two very different books -- one called "The End of The Dream" by Philip Wylie (1972, long since out of print) and the other called "A Simpler Way" by Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers (1999). Wylie's book is a classic speculative fiction "if this goes on" cautionary tale of a global apocalypse brought about not by war, but by a systematic ransacking of the natural environment that led to a dramatic rise in sea level, widespread disease and starvation. The other book is an imaginative nonfiction exploration of human evolution, starting from the premise that species evolve, not because they have to, but because they can. Creatures adapt, then, in highly creative and experimental ways, not with any particular end in mind, but to see if the change has a desirable benefit. Not exactly to avoid death, but to enrich life.

Wylie's premise is that human greed and shortsightedness ultimately led, in his imaginary future, to environmental ruin and thus human ruin. Wheatley and Rogers operate from a very different premise -- that humans, like all animals, will choose life and life-affirming activities, and that the over-structuring of organizations, rules, processes and procedures interferes with those life-affirming aims.

Einstein said, "you cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." While this may not be literally true, in the sense that when you have enough resources to work with, you can have both a Peace Corps and an Army, the essential contradiction makes it nearly impossible for any one individual, entity, or even nation to apply equal resources to both. The same is true of any two contradictory notions. It is difficult to apply equal resources to environmental protection and explosive industrial growth. Or to individual freedom and excessive regulation or bureaucracy. Or even to "struggling for survival" -- avoiding death -- and embracing the fullness of life.

To bring this heady monologue back to earth, then, here's the question: what are the fundamental contradictions preventing you from creating a full life, a free spirit, a thriving business? What beliefs are getting in your way, about yourself, your community, your industry, the economy, the government? What do you need to let go of, in order to reach for what you really want?

29 March 2010

The first quarter of 2010 is almost over!

It flew by for me, thanks in part to an exciting and profitable client contract and the promise of more coming down the pike. As often happens when a "good gig" comes along, I'm awash in the daily details of what's currently in front of me, and getting a bit behind in some of the less urgent (but still quite important) aspects of my life. Fortunately, I have some mechanisms for addressing that so it doesn't get out of hand.

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a huge David Allen fan, and once again, his methods apply to this situation, although I would qualify that by saying the GTD philosophy is necessary but not sufficient. I've been using OmniFocus with good success to capture and categorize the "stuff" in my head, and would recommend that fine software package to those who are in search of a good workflow management app for your computer/PDA. I'm sort of keeping up with weekly reviews, a habit that requires a good deal of discipline but is absolutely worth whatever it takes to establish.

Perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle, and one I hope you have as a repeating appointment in your calendar as I do, is a periodic (at least quarterly and preferably monthly) review of your strategic plan. Assuming you chose to set some goals for this year, whether they were SMART goals, wild wishes, New Year's Resolutions, or even just hopes and dreams, it's right about now when they tend to be permanently lost if you haven't pulled them out to assess your progress.

What I've discovered about myself in using OmniFocus is that having my "stuff" captured and interpreted into doable tasks is only half the battle. Finding the motivation and managing my physical and mental energy to tackle the items on the list is just as, if not more difficult than the capture process itself. Everything on the list is something I put there, not someone else's arbitrary idea of what I ought to be doing. Yet a bewildering array of distractions is always available: interesting TV shows, new books, nice weather (for a change!), and of course the highly addictive Internet. Periodically reviewing my progress toward my larger goals becomes the fuel on my motivational fire, providing the clarity that allows me to focus my attention on the things I have decided are important to me. It also provides a critical reality check, giving me the opportunity to change my mind about one or more of my goals based on whatever new information has come to light since I wrote them. I may need to change some, eliminate some, and add others. The key is to do so in an intentional way, and so not permit external forces to change my goals for me.

When was the last time you pulled out your list of dreams or goals for 2010? Is now the right time to do that? If not, when is? Make an appointment with yourself and put it on your calendar right now. Even if you decide to throw every last goal out the window and write up a whole new batch, you'll feel so much better for having done it on purpose.

As always, let me know if I can help.

24 March 2010

Life Lessons from the Movies, episode 2

In just two viewings of "The Princess and the Frog," Tiana has become my favorite Disney princess. Any Disney aficionado, or anyone with daughters, knows there are a myriad of young two-dimensional ladies to choose from in that pantheon. In most cases, two-dimensional doesn't only describe their appearance.

Tiana is different. For starters, she's not a princess. And in a refreshingly modern twist, she has no particular desire to be a princess. She has a different kind of dream, driven by her family ties and her personal values, and she spends her life in relentless, focused pursuit of it. Tiana is no shrinking violet, tempted by evil sorcerers and in need of rescuing by any knight in shining armor. Interestingly enough, in this story, the prince is by far the more helpless of the two.

Like all good mythic heroes, Tiana has disadvantages. She is a minimum-wage earning minority woman in a time and place where such people rarely rise above that station. She has a tragic flaw -- that of being out of balance. She loses someone important to her, and she faces temptation, hardship, and injustice. Of course, this is a Disney story, so in the end, the good guys prevail and "happily ever after" comes right on cue. What's unique about this story is that the fairy godmother (you're going to love this!) is basically a coach. Rather than intercede on Tiana's behalf, she simply asks the right questions and points out the flaws in our heroes' strategies, that they might find within themselves the needed resources to solve their own problems. In the end, they prevail by realizing, and then being true to, what is most important to them.

Here are the questions Tiana needed to resolve. Do any of them resonate with you?
  1. How is what I want different from what I need?
  2. What's my real reason for doing what I am doing?
  3. What motivates the people who are in a position to help me?
  4. What am I willing to sacrifice for what is most important to me?
  5. What am I missing out on as I pursue my goals, and is that OK with me? If not, what do I need to do differently?
Two things Tiana really had right were that she had a plan, and she had an affirmation. Do you have both of those things? If not, drop me a line. I can help.



12 March 2010

Follow the Money

A colleague of mine recently said to me, "if you understand the flow of cash in a business, you understand the business." While I'm not sure an understanding of the cash flow alone would make me an expert in a particular industry, there's no doubt that "following the money" provides a lot of insight into how a company works. It can also shed some light on the ways in which a company doesn't.

Supposing Jane in procurement doesn't much care for the way Joe over in marketing treats her. Joe puts together a purchase order for some promotional items to be handed out at an upcoming trade show, and tosses it on Jane's desk along with a terse remark. She carefully places it at the bottom of the pile on her desk. The P.O. gets processed eventually, and the items arrive (barely) on time. Joe's and Jane's distaste for each other deepens, and more to the point, the company pays rush charges on the last-minute order.

The invoice for the order makes its way over to accounting, where Bill, who doesn't like Joe any better than Jane does, tucks it into the bottom of his in-basket. And misses the deadline to get the discount for paying within 15 days.

There's nothing wrong with the process at this company. Everyone does exactly what they are supposed to do, according to the letter of the procedure. Yet they are missing obvious opportunities to save money. Why? Because processes don't run companies. People run companies. And when people let their personal gripes or grudges get in the way of productivity, chances are there's a deeper problem that process improvement alone won't solve.

In this case, following the money would reveal these disconnects. The challenge for the person who discovers them is to recognize the real problem. Telling Jane and Bill to pay more attention to the urgency of this paperwork, or giving them more "training" on the procedure, won't make the slightest difference. They know how do to it efficiently. They choose to undermine Joe instead of acting in the company's best interests. It will take noticing the pattern -- that this happens regularly with Joe's purchase orders and not with Bob's or Mary's -- and resolving the people conflict to put the cash flow back on track.

The soft stuff is the hard stuff, and people are the bottom line when it comes to your bottom line. What might you discover by "following the money" at your office?

08 March 2010

Impeccable

I am recently back from the 21st annual Women in Aviation, International Conference, where I heard wonderful keynote speeches from a number of notables in the aviation field. Among these was Randy Babbitt, the new FAA Administrator. Mr. Babbitt talked at length about the issue of safety, as you might expect. What was interesting to me was his choice to address safety in terms of professionalism.

Pilots, like people in all industries, are expected to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of themselves, their equipment and others in their care. In your workplace, even if the greatest daily danger you face is a paper cut, you have safety procedures with which you are expected to be familiar and compliant. But how many people do you know who approach safety with real professionalism?

How many times have you seen someone complain about or ignore a fire drill, give their hands a cursory rinse rather than a thorough scrub, or use a tool without the proper guards or protective gear in place? Most of us have taken a safety shortcut at least once in our lives, and some of us, myself included, literally have the scars to prove it. And usually, at least for me, I can look back on that event and see the error chain: no one was looking, or I was in a hurry, or I got sloppy because I was bored or tired. Those errors show a lack of professionalism -- not a problem with training or procedure, but a problem with attitude.

Any safety-conscious industry offers plentiful safety training for employees. Most have been through classes, review, and drills recently, and are surrounded by job aids in the form of placards, posters and checklists. Yet in the absence of a professional attitude, none of this makes the slightest difference.

How would you want a customer or colleague to describe your work? Would you like it to be labeled "sloppy", "lax", or "incomplete"? Or would you like it to be labeled "impeccable"? I, for one, would like to have an impeccable safety record. Will I achieve that by rushing, skipping steps, or failing to take it seriously? Probably not. I'd also like my clients to describe me as providing impeccable service. Will I achieve that by rushing, skipping steps or failing to take it seriously? Of course not. And in the case of service, just as in the case of safety, more "how-to" training won't help. Professionalism -- attention to detail, focus on the client and on my mission and values, and the right attitude toward the work are the keys to impeccable performance.


02 March 2010

Care, Then Choose

"For as long as you know in your heart that what you’re making or doing matters, and, consequently, for as long as you accept and embrace the immutable laws of scarcity, your options for maintaining focus will, like Frank’s perfect answer ["you do one thing at a time"], remain stunningly obvious.

You “focus” on the one thing you care about, as you “unfocus” on everything else. If not for every minute of your life, at least for the time you set aside to pursue the thing that matters.

If that sounds fancy and oversimpliļ¬ed, then you “care” about too many things. Period."

(from Merlin Mann's post, "First, Care" on 43folders.com)

In another realm of my life, I am considering closing a small volunteer organization, of which I am currently president. My one-year term as president is about to enter year four, not because I've refused to give up my power (far from it), but because no one else seems to want the job. More specifically, only four people reliably attend meetings, and two of them just moved out of state. The other is already filling two other officer posts and has no aspirations to the proverbial throne.

When the organization began, it boasted a membership of nearly 40 enthusiastic members. Since the novelty has worn off, it has fallen off the priority list of those other members, leaving me no choice but to conclude there is either no ongoing need for the service we are offering, or that service is already provided by other organizations.

There's nothing wrong with that. By extension, there's nothing wrong with saying "no" to something that is not a priority or a passion in your life. When you are asked to join a club, donate to a cause, volunteer for a charity event, or write a letter to the Times, you can say "no," and that can be the end of the conversation. It is far better simply to say "no" once than to say "maybe" over and over again. This is what you are doing when you say "oh, I can't today," or "I'm too busy this week -- maybe next time." Rather than free yourself from something you don't love, you are letting it remain around your neck as you give that friend or colleague or organization permission to keep asking. If you say "not this time" more than three times, face it: you aren't interested and discussing it further is a waste of everyone's time.

Causes, committees, clubs and kaffeeklatsches are available to you in infinite supply. Any of them would benefit greatly from your support. All of them will not, and trying to spread yourself that thin is a great way to go broke and fall over from exhaustion. Instead, give generously of your heart, mind and pocketbook to a few causes and hobbies that speak to you on a deep level. Organizations rely most heavily on a few, a few dozen, or at most a few hundred people for whom that one thing is the most important thing in their lives. If you have the wherewithal to be one of those people for a favorite group, by all means, do so. If not, you may want to support a handful of different groups to a moderate degree, or you may want to plan to give a little bit to as many as you can, as your resources allow. Odds are, unless you have a lot more free time or discretionary cash than most people, you will have to choose one of these options. Choose your strategy carefully, in alignment with your values, your basic needs, and your other priorities.

Distractions are often disguised as opportunities. Measure each one against your personal vision and mission, and make your choices intentionally. Your health, your family, your appointment calendar, and your wallet will all thank you for it.


From Merlin Mann: "First, Care."

Before I write my own blog post, I offer you this one, that I wish I had written.
(Warning - there are one or two "non-family-friendly" words in the linked post. Please do not click if such a word might offend you. And no, I don't wish I'd written those particular words.)

Merlin Mann offers a great, no-frills answer to the question of how to stay focused, and it provides a great segue into the post I'm about to write, about priorities. Take a look at Merlin's post, then come back for mine....

22 February 2010

A Handful of Updates

  • OmniFocus is working well for me. I have kept my email inbox clean for over a week, I am confident that everything that really matters to me is recorded in a useful way, and my creativity is on the rise. I'm doing less and getting more done. If you are looking for a software-based system to help keep you on track with all of your projects and commitments, I encourage you to take a look.
  • Still seeking a balance between using social media effectively and drowning in it. What's working for you?
  • Super excited about the two instructional design contracts I'm working on, and realizing this is something I am really good at and really passionate about. If you know of an instructional design project that may be a good fit for me, I'd love to hear about it.
  • I'll be presenting an education session on Selling for Geniuses this coming Saturday at the Women in Aviation International Conference. It will be participative and fluid -- I have no idea how it will turn out except that it will deliver value to the people who attend. I'm looking forward to it!

17 February 2010

Discipline

"Discipline" has been a recurring theme in my world recently, most notably in the servant leadership workshop I'm developing for a current client, but also in other arenas of my life. It's an interesting word that means different things to different people. Sometimes it even means different things to the same person, and that's the experience I'm having right now.

A particular theme that comes out of the philosophy of servant leadership is the relationship between the word "discipline" and the word "disciple." Religious connotations aside, a "disciple" is someone who is both a leader and a follower; both a learner and a teacher. Discipline, then, is the practice of living these different yet interconnected roles.

I remember, not very fondly, a teacher I had in high school who seemed convinced that teaching was the opposite of learning. She was closed to all input from students, particularly when the students pointed out egregious discrepancies between her lectures and the text about which she was speaking. Remember what they say about horse training. If you want to train a horse, what's the first thing you need to know? More than the horse.

My teacher's approach to leadership was not one of discipline or discipleship, but rather one of unbending authoritarianism. By standing firm in her position regardless of new information, she lost the respect of her students, the control of her classroom, and most critically, the opportunity to expand her own world with valuable new learning. (It's worth noting here that the students in question were college-bound honor students, and most of the other teachers in the school were outstanding role models of discipline.)

I have certainly been known to fall into the "know-it-all" trap, insisting I'm right no matter what or who contradicts me. Perhaps you have too. "Expertise" confers some benefits. We've enjoyed the benefits of getting the right answer since we first started school. It feels great to be right, and for that reason, it can be easy to get carried away in a brilliant monologue. But all that speaking cuts us off from listening, and thus from the learning that might go with that listening.

Neither will your life be fulfilled only by listening, though. Lifelong learning expands our horizons and enriches our lives, but it is no substitute for action. Pure listening can be treacherous, too -- if our minds become so open that our brains fall out. Balance is key, in this as in all things. The more we can remain open to new experiences and integrate that learning into productive activity, the greater our discipline and the more effective our leadership.

What is your experience of discipline? What does the word mean to you, and how do you apply it in your life? Where is it really working for you, and where is there room for improvement?

15 February 2010

Whose "department" is it?

Today I went to the department store that has heretofore been my favorite, to return a recent purchase. The reason for the return was that the garment had, in one washing, shrunk to become a good two inches shorter. I felt that, considering its rather handsome price, the thing ought to have performed better. I asked for a refund, and fully expected the transaction to be simple and quick.

The young lady at the desk informed me -- and looked a bit stricken as she did so -- that the store does not accept returns of anything not in the exact condition it was in when purchased. She agreed with me completely that this was not a reasonable policy, but was powerless to do anything about it. Her manager made his decree via phone from his office.

She assured me the manager would come out to speak to me directly if I asked, but was somewhat doubtful as to whether it would make a difference. We decided to call him out, and when I explained my problem in a tone that clearly expressed perturbation, he relented and gave me my refund.

What can we learn from this situation? Here's what this experience tells me about this store:
  1. The customer is considered to be in the wrong when making a return.
  2. Money is not to be refunded, even when the product is defective.
  3. Uncomfortable conversations about customer-unfriendly policies are left to the front-liners, who must take the heat but are powerless to resolve the problem.
  4. Managers play "bad cop" from behind closed doors.
  5. Only angry customers get satisfaction here.
This kind of systemic, customer-hostile company policy makes me question the wisdom of shopping at this store, when they are competing in the same market space as, for example, Nordstrom, and in the same geographic space as, for example, Walt Disney World. I've had better service in stores that sell comparable merchandise for lower prices. If you were me, would you go back?

It's been said that it costs ten times as much to attract a new customer as to retain a current one, and yet policies and systems like the ones described above persist in many companies. Where does your company spend its money? What do you do to retain your best customers, and what policies do you have in place that may be driving them away?

04 February 2010

Making It All Work

Many of you, my faithful readers, know I am a huge fan of David Allen, productivity guru and author of the world's best productivity book, "Getting Things Done." His most recent book, called "Making It All Work," was recently released in paperback, and I'm about 30 pages into it.

The promise of this latest book is to guide wayward believers like me toward being able to use the "GTD" system more consistently and more completely. To that end, I've also obtained and started using a computer application called OmniFocus. Optimized for those of us who use Macs, and sporting a matching iPhone app, this program is designed around the GTD principles and intended to support the process of capturing and processing "stuff" to improve productivity.

I'm quite happy so far with how it's all coming together, although I've only been at it for a couple of days. If I don't provide regular reports of how it's working, as well as suggestions as to how it may apply usefully to your life, poke me and ask lots of questions!

Meanwhile, if you are like most of us, overwhelmed with incoming data and struggling to extract meaning from it so you can respond appropriately, you owe it to yourself to read David Allen's books. Very few books about "time management" have spawned a multinational movement, and his have done exactly that. Products, services, Internet communities, and every imaginable tool, toy and accessory have evolved in the wake of GTD. Much of what I recommend and coach with my clients is GTD-derived, and I use the book in my 8-week Strategic Action Mastery development course.

If managing your energy and priorities more effectively is on your list of goals for 2010, drop me a line. I can help.

13 January 2010

A Fresh Start

I would be remiss in my duty as a coach if I failed to address the whole "January" phenomenon. Ah, January -- the season of new year's resolutions, fresh starts, "new year new you" promotions, rampant dieting, and every gym in the country bursting at the seams for about three weeks. And the gym owners, Weight Watcher meeting leaders, and makers of nicotine gum going, "thank goodness this happens every year, and only once a year."

So, postulated that you are swept up in the excitement of resolutions, here are some thoughts on how to turn that temporary enthusiasm into a permanent improvement in your quality of life.

  1. There is no magic bullet. Really. We all wish fervently that there were such a thing as a free lunch, a diet pill that works, an "effortless" way to get the results we want. There isn't. Things that are worth having must be earned. Please, save yourself the disappointment of wasting money or time on "quick fixes" in your life or your business, and seek proven, sensible, trusted methods for achieving your goals.
  2. Show up. Remember what Woody Allen said: 80% of success is showing up. Mailing a check to the gym will not get you in shape. Nobody has ever learned to swim by reading a book. The most expensive, elegantly-bound strategic plan in the world does not lead to business success if it sits on the shelf and collects dust. Whatever you intend to do differently this year, do it. Talk is cheap.
  3. Choose to be held accountable. A gym membership is nice, but a personal trainer will hold you accountable. Leadership books are good; leadership coaches are better. Got a BHAG - a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal? Get a BHAG Buddy who also has one, and help each other reach them. (Thanks, Sue. :) ) Until you do the work, a new year's resolution is nothing but window dressing.
I have the good fortune to know, in addition to the world's greatest BHAG Buddy, a wide variety of consummate professionals in a range of fields who can help you achieve pretty much any goal you may have set for 2010. If you need:
  • A personal trainer
  • A financial planner
  • An accountant
  • An attorney
  • A virtual assistant
  • An advertising agency
  • A real estate professional
  • A nutritional counselor
  • A holistic health care provider
  • A graphic designer
... please contact me and I'll be glad to introduce you to one that I trust.

If I can help you in any way to achieve your 2010 goals, call me. There's no time like the present to start using more of what you have to get more of what you want.

Pick One, Please

Recently I was driving down the much-maligned Interstate 4, and I saw one of those trucks that is covered with information about a business. The name and nature of the business didn't really stick with me, but one particular bit of lettering really stood out. It said:

"We put quality, honesty and integrity first."

To which I responded, "huh?"

As I understand it, the word "first" refers to item number one. Last I checked, the gold medal is not given to the top three contestants -- only to the top one. So how can three things all be first?

"No, no," you say. "Clearly this business has these three values as its highest priorities, and they are all equal in importance." And I would agree that this was likely the intent of the framers of this particular statement.

But here's the thing -- what happens when you can't do all three at once?

Supposing the only way you could get the highest quality material available would be to purchase it from someone you knew was importing it illegally. Knowingly breaking the law while claiming to hold honesty as a core value would be dishonest, or at least out of integrity, right? But in order to maintain integrity and honesty, you'd have to settle for the second-best quality. When push comes to shove in business, only one value can reside in the top spot. As a business owner, you get to pick which one, but you can only pick one.

Have you reviewed your company's values lately? If not, check two things: first, check that your list of values is written down in order of priority. Second, do some exploring of the reality on the ground, and make sure it is consistent with your professed values. If you say you value honesty and the evidence suggests your employees don't trust each other, something is wrong. If you say you value good customer service and you get a lot of complaints, something is wrong. What values are evident in your work environment? How do they compare to the "words on the wall"? Anything need fixing?